Book: “The Dare (Fear Street # 21)” by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Nice girls don’t kill…
Johanna Wise has always longed to be part of Dennis Arthur’s rich, popular crowd, and she can’t believe it when he finally asks her out. Now she’ll do anything to continue to hang out with his cool friends and keep Dennis as her boyfriend.
So when Dennis dares her to kill their teacher, Mr. Northwood, she doesn’t say no. She can’t. Besides, it was only a joke, right? But now the joke has gone too far, and the whole school is taking bets on Johanna. The dare is serious…dead serious. Will she do it? Will she really kill for love?
Had I Read It Before: Yes.
The Plot: We meet Johanna Wise as she and her BFF Margaret are going to the local 7/11 to get some hotdogs for dinner. Both Johanna and Margaret are unpopular girls at Shadyside High School because they’re both average looking and poor (though Johanna brags about how skinny she is and how ugly Margaret is. So this is the kind of first person POV we get, huh?). As they’re waiting for their hotdogs to cook, a group of five rich kids from North Hills come into the store as well. The leader, Dennis, is Johanna’s crush, because he’s handsome and rich and really really funny. If funny means he and his friends making a huge mess in the 7/11 with the slurpies while daring each other to do it, angering the poor cashier who probably wasn’t even supposed to be there today. When confronted, Dennis pulls a gun and shoots the clerk!… but of course it’s just a water gun. The kids laugh and laugh, and Zack throws cash on the counter as they leave, as if it’s not super condescending and humiliating. Johanna thinks all of this is hilarious.
In history class the next day we meet Mr. Northwood, the stern instructor that everyone is kind of meh about. He’s described as a ‘beardless Clint Eastwood on a bad day’, and honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad if we’re talking younger Clint Eastwood. One could do worse. Johanna is lingering behind to get some clarification on a paper, but sees Dennis arguing with Mr. Northwood about a make up test. Apparently, Dennis’s family is going on their annual trip to the Bahamas in a short while, and Mr. Northwood isn’t letting him make up the midterm at a later date. It’s either be there or fail. Absolutely affronted that he’s not getting his way, Dennis throws a textbook on Mr. Northwood’s desk and Johanna beelines for the hallway. She and Margaret eavesdrop, and Dennis storms out just as Margaret makes her exit. Johanna feels bad for Dennis (though she notes to the reader that SHE isn’t getting any trips to the Bahamas any time soon), and they start a weird game of fantasizing about killing Mr. Northwood after Dennis says that he could just kill him. She tells Dennis that she’s actually Mr. Northwood’s neighbor and they both live on Fear Street. He seems intrigued by this, and they walk to the student parking lot, talking the whole way. But then Caitlyn, Dennis’s girlfriend, pulls up in a red Miata, and tells Dennis to get in. He tells Johanna he’s offer her a life but it only seats two, to which Johanna says she’ll make room, opens the door, and pulls Caitlyn out and dumps her on the pavement as Dennis looks on in awe…. Except NAHHHH, that didn’t happen. It’s just one of Johanna’s violent fantasies about hurting and humiliating people. Totally normal, right? She actually says bye and watches them drive off.
A week later Dennis is off to the sunny Caribbean and Johanna is in history class. Melody, another rich kid who is dressed head to toe in Ralph Lauren, talks back to Mr. Northwood and blows off his request that she stay after class for a talk. Mr. Northwood kind of unprofessionally makes a snide comment about not caring how many banks her father owns, and that she isn’t special, and MAN, I AM FEELING THIS FRUSTRATION. I was SURROUNDED by these types at my high school. That night Johanna and Margaret are talking on the phone about Dennis and Mr. Northwood and how he is always on the rich kids cases, but Johanna hears a weird noise outside, a car door and a crash, and is convinced someone is breaking in! She looks out the window and sees Zack, Melody, Caitlin, and some dickswizzle named Lanny, crouching behind their car on the street outside Mr. Northwood’s house. Johanna goes to investigate, and they’re surprised she lives on Fear Street next to their teacher. They tell her not to tattle about what they’re about to do, and she promises she won’t, though Melody isn’t convinced. The guys dare each other to cause a fuss, and they put sand in Mr. Northwood’s gas tank and slash his tires. They’re about to carve Dennis’s name in the fender, when the porch light comes on and the rich kids bolt, leaving Johanna with Mr. Northwood. He asks her why she’s hanging out with these jerks, and she claims she just heard a noise and came to investigate. He says he’s going to call the cops, but after Johanna goes home nothing really comes of it that night before she goes to bed.
The next day that group is out of class. The police came late and deigned to do anything since it was a bunch of kids of the most powerful people in town, so Mr. Northwood asked that the school suspend them. Mr. Northwood says he believes her that she wasn’t hanging out with them, but is going to keep an eye on her. That night Johanna is studying when the phone rings. It’s Dennis! He’s asks if she’s ready to kill Mr. Northwood! But he’s just kidding, he’s actually back from the Bahamas and was apparently thinking about her (when he wasn’t having a wonderful time, which he gladly brags about). He wants to know if she wants to go to a party that Friday that Melody is hosting. Johanna asks about Caitlyn, and he says that they ‘see other people’ sometimes, and let me tell you, that’s the oldest trick in the book. He also informs her that his friends are no longer suspended because their parents went to Mr. Hernandez, the principal, and threw their weight and power around, and demanded apologies, which they got. SIDE FUCKING BAR: Once in middle school a friend and I were at lunch and a guy we were sitting next to LITERALLY dumped his food tray all over my friend on purpose because he didn’t like her. We reported him to the principal, and he got in some trouble, until his MOTHER marched into the school and threw HER weight around, and the school administration ended up apologizing to this DOUCHE CANOE for dumping his food on MY FRIEND. There is no justice. I take this shit personally and hate these North Hills kids. Johanna now wants to be a part of this group because of the power.
At school the next day Dennis meets Johanna at her locker and gives her a beautiful conch shell that he brought back just for her. Caitlin storms up and says that it is HER CONCH SHELL and demands Johanna hand it over. Johanna instead opts to smash her in the face with it…. Just kidding! Caitlin didn’t even notice, and instead just pulled Dennis off with her. Another psychotic fantasy. At lunch she and Margaret are sitting together and they see Dennis and Caitlyn making out, which makes Margaret skeptical about this date that Johanna says she and Dennis have. And then in history class, Dennis argues with Mr. Northwood again about retaking the midterm. When Mr. Northwood says that it’s about fairness, Dennis says that it’s not fair to HIM and that if he fails he won’t be eligible for track and his Olympic dreams will be ruined. Yeah FUCKING right, you dick. He storms past Johanna like she isn’t even there when Mr. Northwood refuses to relent.
That night Dennis picks her up after she frets about maybe it all being a joke or a hallucination. They go to Melody’s house in North Hills, and she lets them know that her parents are at the movies so the house is all theirs. I hope they’re hitting a triple feature, Melody. As the party goes on it’s pretty clear that Dennis is less interested in associating with Johanna and more interested in hanging out with his friends, and then the conversation turns to Mr. Northwood and how Johanna and Dennis are going to kill him. And maybe it’s a joke? Johanna isn’t so sure. They’re regaled with impressions of Mr. Northwood, and a story about how he docked five points off Carter “The Cheater”‘s Phillips test for forgetting to write her name. Dennis is really keen on joking about it, but Johanna is a little uncomfortable… Until he drives her home and they make out in his car. Of course, they’re shocked to see Mr. Northwood watching them from his front yard. Dennis freaks and tells Johanna he’s leaving, and Johanna goes inside and is CONVINCED that Northwood was spying on her (when he was probably just taking out the garbage or something). She paces around her house and pulls a pistol out of a drawer, continuing to fantasize about killing Mr. Northwood. Her Mom catches her and Johanna claims she thought she saw a burglar, but that it’s gone now, and she goes to sleep with that lie on her conscience.
At school the next day Melody tells Johanna to watch out for Caitlyn, who would be super jealous that she went on a date with Dennis. Dennis then asks if Johanna wants to hang out at her place that night, and since Johanna’s Mom works nights she says okay. But problems, because when she gets home she is reminded she had a friend date with Margaret that night when her bestie calls her. Johanna fakes ill. Dennis arrives, but has brought his whole posse of friends. They all settle into their favorite topic: why Mr. Northwood sucks. Today it’s because he caught Zack cheating on a test (Zack claims he was just asking Deena for the time, but yeah, sure you were asshat). They are convinced that Mr. Northwood hates them because they’re rich and he’s not, and Zack says he brought something to teach him a lesson! He got some Skunk ‘juice’ from his brother, who works at a lab with animals. They conspire to throw it on Mr. Northwood’s porch, and nominate Johanna to do it after another dare escalation happens and she volunteers. Because she’s cool too now!
Mr. Northwood almost catches her but she drops the stink bomb on his porch. She and her new friends go to the Corner to get some burgers in celebration. When she gets home, though, Margaret catches her, as she was bringing her chicken noodle soup since she thought Johanna was sick. They fight, and Margaret drops some truth bombs about how the rich kids aren’t really Johanna’s friends, and leaves in a huff.
Dennis and his friends keep hanging at Johanna’s house in the next few weeks. One night, Dennis finds the gun that Johanna was playing with earlier, and says that THIS is how they can kill Northwood! He then actually puts a bullet in it and starts dicking around because PRIVILEGE, GUYS. Johanna, Caitlyn, and Melody tell him to knock it off, but he doesn’t and he actually shoots Zack. Like ACTUALLY SHOOTS HIM. I thought it was going to be another dark fantasy, but NOPE! The friends panic, and Dennis tells someone to call 911 before he drags Zack out of the house, telling them all to clean up. When the cops arrive the friends and the police find Zack sprawled in Mr. Northwood’s yard. And Mr. Northwood is holding the gun in confusion, since he stumbled upon a bleeding kid on his property. Dennis has tried to frame him for the shooting.
Which of course DOES NOT WORK, since the gun is registered to Johanna’s absent father and there was blood ALL OVER HER HOUSE. The truth comes out and the rich kids parents make it all go away (because Zack isn’t dead, I guess). They try to get their kids transferred out of Northwood’s class (which would probably be best for everyone involved), but to no avail. And according to Johanna, Mr. Northwood is even meaner to them than he was before.
Johanna’s mother had forbidden her from seeing Dennis, but Johanna’s sneaking around with him. They’re parking and mauling and rounding the bases when he gets all hung up on Northwood again (GIVE IT UP, MAN), and he says that Lanny dared him to kill Northwood. Johanna isn’t sure how serious this is, and then Dennis dares her to kill him. She coquettishly takes the dare.
At school rumors start swirling that she is going to kill Mr. Northwood, and she gets a lot of ‘good lucks’ from her peers. FUCKING SHADYSIDE. You know how I know this was pre-Columbine? Margaret confronts Johanna about the rumors, and says that Lanny and Zack are taking bets on whether or not Johanna will actually kill him. Johanna tries to brush it off as not serious. But she sees Lanny later and he tells her that the pool is up to 1000 bucks, and if she does it he’ll give her five hundred of it. Johanna thinks that this is a lot of money, and GIRL. GIRL. GIRL. I know that you are not wealthy but I would imagine that an actual murder hit on the dark web goes for SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT???!!! FIVE HUNDRED BUCKS TO BE A CONTRACT KILLER. ARE YOU SERIOUS? That night she mulls her options, thinking that she’d be doing it for Dennis because she loves him so much, and he calls her to tell her that it has to be Saturday.
On Thursday Johanna has one of her twisted fantasies, this time thinking about maybe beating Mr. Northwood to death with logs from his woodpile. She has stayed home from school because she’s not feeling well. I wonder why? She’s planning a hiding place for the gun (so did the police just give it back to her after Zack was shot?), and trying to plan for Saturday. Dennis calls her that afternoon to update her on the pool. 1200 bucks now! 600 still isn’t the running rate for a hit, Johanna. Starting to get twitchy, she decides that she’s going to SHOOT HIM NOW, and grabs the gun and runs to the backyard where he’s still gathering wood for a romantic fire for one, I’d imagine. Before she can pull the trigger, though, Margaret shows up and Johanna hides the gun. Margaret says she brought notes for her since she was sick, and Mr. Northwood says that she’s such a good friend, but since he is always recording his lectures with his dictaphone she could use that instead. Johanna demurely declines, and Margaret pulls her aside and asks if Johanna is ACTUALLY going to kill him. Johanna lies and says no.
Murder Day approaches, and Johanna is a wreck. She’s watching Northwood paint his shed (in winter because he’s like that) and is planning to shoot him, when there’s a doorbell. She answers and it’s Dennis, who has come to see if she’s going to do it. She says she is, and shows him the gun, but says she needs to go upstairs and take something for her stomach. She is still very jumpy, hearing a car backfire makes her even more on edge. She retrieves the gun from the drawer and notices that Dennis is sweating, he’s as nervous as she is and AWWW HE MUST BE WORRIED ABOUT HER. She trudges through the yard and is going to shoot Mr. Northwood….. but he has ALREADY BEEN SHOT!!!!! Dennis comes up behind her and crows about how she did it, but she says no, she didn’t, he was like this when she found him! But he says nah, she did do it. Just look at the gun. There’s gunpowder residue. The gun was fired, and he’s called the cops! HE SHOT MR. NORTHWOOD AND IS PINNING IT ON HER!!! That car backfire was a gunshot! And to add insult to injury, CAITLIN POPS OUT AND WAS IN ON THE WHOLE THING! Apparently she dared Dennis to get Johanna to take care of their Northwood ‘problem’, and he took her up on it. Dennis faked an interest in her and stung her along because she was so attention starved and in desperate need of their acceptance. Betrayed and devastated, Johanna marches up and shoots Dennis right in the chest!!!… Except NOPE! JOKES! Another hallucination. The police arrive and start to arrest her, as Dennis and Caitlin say that they arrived just after she shot Mr. Northwood……
BUT…. Mr. Northwood is still alive! And on top of that, the cops remove a certain DICTAPHONE from his coat pocket…. which has recorded EVERYTHING!!! Which include’s Dennis and Caitlyn’s confessions. BUSTED YOU LITTLE PSYCHOS!!! As they are hauled away and Mr. Northwood is put in an ambulance, one of the cops says that Johanna has shitty friends, and asks her what they were saying about a dare? Johanna says that it was all just a fantasy, and walks into her house. The end.
Body Count: Zip! It wasn’t looking good there for Zack or Mr. Northwood, but it all ended up fine, mortality wise.
Romance Rating: Zero. Dennis was just using poor Johanna and there were no other love interests.
Bonkers Rating: 6. If only because there were those SUPER VIOLENT FANTASIES interspersed throughout the book, and Zack was totally shot whilst playing with a gun.
Fear Street Relevance: 8. Johanna lives on Fear Street, as does Mr. Northwood, and all of the tension happens there.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: EVERY SINGLE ONE THAT STARTED AS CARNAGE AND ENDED UP AS A FANTASY. So, SO many.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Oh man, where to start! From the mention of CD players to the outfits (specifically an ensemble of a denim vest over a work shirt and faded blue jeans with manufactured holes in the knees) to dictaphones to slurpy runs at the gas station, this one was chock full of 90s goodness.
“I had to ask Mr. Northwood a question about the paper I was writing about Charles Lindbergh. I didn’t know if he wanted me to just write about Lindbergh’s career, or did I have to write about the kidnapping of his baby too?”
This just resonated with me as someone who’d want to write (and has written) a history paper on a horrific true crime incident.
Conclusion: “The Dare” is really more an exercise in trying my patience, as the main characters are either a bunch of spoiled, awful rich kids, or a pushover with a chip on her shoulder. I feel like it kind of wanted to be “Killing Mr. Griffin”, but didn’t have the balls that Lois Duncan had. Up next is “Bad Dreams”!